Why Yuna Kim Is Destined to Become 3rd Woman to Repeat as Gold Medalist

Kevin McRaeFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2014

Korea's Yuna Kim will leave Sochi with a second gold medal and a place in the history books.
Korea's Yuna Kim will leave Sochi with a second gold medal and a place in the history books.Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Korean figure skating icon Yuna Kim didn't just win the gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games—she ran away from the field and took out a couple of world records in the process. 

When you consider that field also contained her longtime rival, Mao Asada, who at the Games became the first woman to land three elusive triple-Axel jumps in competition, her accomplishment looks all the more impressive.

But, if anything, Kim is chasing an even more notable feat this time around.

Only two women in Olympic history have repeated as gold medalists in figure skating, and if Kim wins in Sochi, she will join Germany's Katarina Witt and Norway's legendary Sonja Henie in some truly rarefied air.

Granted, everyone loves an upset, particularly on this stage, but it doesn't appear likely. Barring something unexpected, Kim seems destined to defend her gold medal and skate her way into the record books.

Kim is a true competitor at heart, and she's already revealed that this will be her final appearance at the Olympic Games. 

What better way to ride off into the sunset than with a historic second gold?

She says she understands the implications but doesn't feel a ton of pressure given that she's already been here and, no matter what, she’ll always be a champion.

"I've already achieved my goal of winning an Olympic gold medal so I don't have any burden or feel greedy about results," Kim told Eurosport in December.

Kim is a rockstar in her native Korea, where she received quite a going away party before the Sochi Games.
Kim is a rockstar in her native Korea, where she received quite a going away party before the Sochi Games.Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

You'd think, given all the expectations and implications of her performance in Sochi, that she'd be feeling the pressure start to sink in by now. But when you hear her talk and see her body language, she exudes a quiet calmness.

Kim just seems unflappable and in the zone ahead of her title defense.

She has a very zen-like demeanor, almost as if she's above it all, looking down and untouched by the type of pressure that would make many ordinary athletes come undone.

And when you really consider it, she makes an excellent point. 

The pressure isn't on Kim to win gold in Sochi; it's on her competition to stop her.

Asada, who captured silver in Vancouver, is likewise competing at her final Games. She knows that this will be her last shot at gold and, quite possibly, her last shot at unseating her rival. 

She doesn't have the luxury of falling back on her gold medal from four years ago, but Kim does. 

That's pressure. 

Russian teenage sensation and hero of Saturday and Sunday’s team event—where she helped lead her country to gold—Yulia Lipnitskaya is holding the weight of an entire nation's expectations on her 15-year-old shoulders. 

And that’ll only grow with the bar she set this weekend. By now, people are expecting something memorable from her, and she hasn’t shown any nerves yet—other than those made of steel—but it’s important to remember that she’s still a kid.

For the American women, Gracie Gold is grappling with her designation as the new face of U.S. women's figure skating. That's both a tremendous blessing—she'll be loved at home—and a tremendous burden, as she'll need to live up to the hopes and expectations of her country.

Polina Edmunds, although confident to the point where some call her cocky, is still a sophomore in high school, and she may not be ready for this type of stage and exposure yet.

What about Ashley Wagner?

You could argue that there is no American athlete in Sochi facing more questions and pressure to perform than her.

A more than solid performance in the ladies short program during Saturday's team skate notwithstanding, many still feel that she's lucky to even be in Sochi without a ticket.

She did a lot to quiet those critics with her early performance, but she's still got a lot to prove heading into the individual competition.

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 25:  Kim Yu-Na of South Korea reacts after the Ladies Free Skating on day 14 of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at Pacific Coliseum on February 25, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

So for the American women collectively, there is a ton of pressure to make something special happen in Sochi.

As for Kim? We know that answer already. 

She's just here to have fun, do her thing and let the chips fall where they will.

"I just hope to do everything I've prepared to do. As long as I can do that, I think the results will follow and I should be able to end my career without regrets," Kim told Yoo Jee-ho of the Yonhap News Agency.

No regrets indeed; in fact, the thing she's most worried about is what she’ll do when she retires.

"I've done it [figure skating] since I was seven, I've done nothing but this. I have this fear about whether or not I'll be able to do other stuff well. I also have this fear about starting everything from scratch, without really knowing what I'm doing," she told Eurosport.

"But after Sochi I won't feel empty. I did my share."

She certainly did, and after these Games, her share will be two gold medals and a place in the history books.